Hebrew:
תיאולוגיה מקראית נגד תיאולוגיה שיטתית
Teologiyah Mikrayat neged Teologiyah Shitatit
Greek: 
Βιβλική Θεολογία έναντι             Συστηματικής Θεολογίας
Biblikē Theologia enanti                   Systēmatikēs Theologias

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Biblical Theology vs. Systematic Theology

Oftentimes, we hear other churchgoers say "that's biblical" when they argue with us about their private interpretations or denominational traditions. This becomes a problem when multiple people each claim to have "biblical" ideas that all contradict each other. However, this dilemma is hardly unique to congregants alone, but church leaders routinely engage in it themselves. This article defines what makes an idea "biblical" as opposed to "systematic" when it comes to hermeneutics, the study of scriptural interpretation. 

In the Old Testament, Joseph son of Jacob asked, "Do not interpretations belong to God?" (Gen. 40:8). Likewise, in the New Testament, Simon Peter warned, "First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation" (2 Pet. 1:20). Nowadays, instead of trusting the Bible like we claim to doctrinally, we ask ignorant questions such as, "How do you know that you are right?" The point of reading scripture is know what the authors intended to tell us, their readers. For example, John son of Zebedee wrote, "But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name" (20:31). If we ignore John's reason, the logical conclusion is that we may not have eternal life! Therefore, biblical theology deals with the actual literary themes and instructions of the Bible. In contrast, systematic theology deals with concerns from a historical or cultural setting beyond scripture that may nor may not coincide with it. Let us further explore these methodological differences, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of each.

Biblical Theology

Biblical theology, simply put, is the "theology of the Bible," focusing on the actual writers and their relationship with God as he works through history and culture to inspire them. Biblical theologians, by trade, methodically interpret scripture with a blend of historical context, cultural background, inductive study, and descriptive teaching. This means to "speak where the Bible speaks and to be silent where it remains silent." Paul gave a similar admonition when he wrote, "That you may learn through us the meaning of the saying, 'Nothing beyond what is written,' so that none of you will be puffed up in favor of one against another" (1 Cor. 4:6). For example, a biblical theological reading of Paul's letters considers what he intended by the word "justification" in his first-century world rather than the prescriptive doctrines of systematic theologians later in church history.

Biblical theologians prioritize the historical-grammatical method. Instead of arranging scriptural   lessons by topic with questions such as, "What does the Bible say about going to church," they study them in their original format. For example, a biblical theologian knows that Jesus' teaching, "For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them" (Matt. 18:20), relates to this rabbinical lesson from the Mishnah: "When two sit together and words of Torah pass between them, the Divine Presence [Hebrew: Shechinah] rests between them" (Avot 3:3). This contrasts with the usual systematic approach by many pastors who read it as: "When a couple of Christians get together to read the Bible, they're having church." 

The method of biblical theology is inductive reasoning, to research and formulate thought to know what the author himself meant to say. Think of this as a conversation with a real person, knowing we must be good listeners and ask unbiased questions to preserve the relationship and maintain good communication. Biblical theologians see the authors as real men rather than the sum of their ideas. Finally, they try to be primarily descriptive by restating Bible themes using the actual words of the writers themselves. 

Systematic Theology

According to Merriam-Webster, systematic theology is a "a branch of theology concerned with summarizing the doctrinal traditions of a religion (such as Christianity) especially with a view to relating the traditions convincingly to the religion's present-day setting." Simply put, the main goal of a systematic theologian is to justify a denominational or otherwise sectarian doctrine by reading it into the Bible. However, if we only read biblical theology, we would have no tools to apply the gospel now in the present. Theologians systematize the Bible to bring together all the verses on a given topic to make a unified doctrine. Problem is, when we take verses out of their literary or historical context to fit verses the authors never intended, we can make the Bible say anything. Also, systematic theologians often ignore or twist verses, and even whole passages, that do not fit their doctrines. For example, Paul's lesson in Romans 9 and 10 features themes of both God's sovereignty and human free will. Yet, most church leaders teach their people to emphasize one over the other. In the first century, the Christians who read Paul's letters seemingly did not find a contradiction the way our predestination/free will debates go today. 

 

Prayer

Blessed are you, LORD our God, King of the world, . Amen.

Bibliography

The Book of Common Prayer. Huntington Beach, CA: Anglican Liturgy Press, 2019. 

Köstenberger, Andreas. "What is Biblical Theology?" For the Church. Kansas City: Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2019. 

          https://ftc.co/resource-library/blog-entries/what-is-biblical-theology.

Strong, James. Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible: Updated and Expanded Edition. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2007.

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Christian Origins/Current Faith

Lancaster, Pennsylvania, USA

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Scripture quotations come from the New Revised Standard Version, © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA. Used by permission. All rights reserved

© 2021 CO/CF Ministry. All rights reserved

The teaching ministry of James M. González, M.T.S.